Tastes Like Chicken: Despite their horrible smell and their disgusting eating habits, dinosaurs are animals all of us love, except for my old Aunt Monagilda, who was once jilted by one. They are those old leathery things. We all grew up adoring the herbivores and imitating those carnivores -- leapin' lizards! We most of us even knew they weren't really lizards. Reptiles, that's what they were.

Now it turns out that maybe they weren't. There have been rumors for years that some of those guys had bird-like tendencies, but nobody really wanted to believe that they lived the canary lifestyle. Now there is incontrovertible proof.

A team of Chinese and US scientist announced on April 25, 2001, that they had found the long sought intact dinosaur fossil -- not just the bones, but also the skin -- and, you guessed it, it was completely covered with feathers. There had been previous finds, some of them from the same famed fossil beds of China's northeastern Liaoning province, that showed some feather-like structures, but the evidence was always ambiguous or incomplete or jumbled in a way that allowed critics to question whether the "feathers" really belonged to the specimen. This guy is different -- a full suit of head-to-toe feathers is clearly what he is wearing.

The fossil, preserved in two facing sedimentary rock slabs, is perfectly posed to show off its plumage. It is clearly an advanced therapod of the dromeaosaur type, the same family as the tyranosaurs and those cuddly little Velociraptors that chased the kids around the lab in the Jurassic Park movie. It's not clear yet whether this individual is an immature member of a known type (Sinornithosaurus) or of a completely new genus. It may not yet be a bird, but it's surely on the way to being one.

The first announcement of the find, with much more detail and links to another page with lots of pictures, is at http://www.amnh.org/science/specials/dinobird.html. The "AMNH" in the web link is the American Museum of Natural History. The critter is temporarily on display at the Washington DC museum (part of the Smithsonian) on loan from the National Geological Museum of China.

P.S.:  It also turns out that canaries, like most birds, are vicious little monsters.  If too many of them compete for space or food, they quickly turn into murderous cannibals.  Just goes to show.